Jain Temples

sights / Religious

Lonely Planet review

Within the fort walls is a maze-like, interconnecting treasure trove of seven beautiful yellow sandstone Jain temples, dating from the 15th and 16th centuries. Opening times have a habit of changing, so check with the caretakers. The intricate carving rivals that of the marble Jain temples in Ranakpur and Mt Abu, and has an extraordinary quality because of the soft, warm stone. Shoes and all leather items must be removed before entering the temples.

Chandraprabhu is the first temple you come to inside. No mortar was used in its construction; blocks of masonry are held together by iron staples. Dedicated to the eighth tirthankar, whose symbol is the moon, it was built in 1509 and features fine sculpture in the mandapa, whose intensely sculpted pillars form a series of toranas . Around the inside of the drum are 12 statues of Ganesh, and around the upper gallery are 108 marble images of Parasnath, the 23rd tirthankar . The inner sanctum holds four images of Chandraprabhu, and the hall around it is lined with statues of tirthankars . In Jain temples the statues are usually unclothed – a contrast to Hindu temples, where statues are elaborately dressed. The voluptuous women are tributes to female beauty and to the importance of carnal desire in human existence.

To the right of Chandraprabhu is the Rikhabdev temple, which has a lovely, tranquil atmosphere. There are some fine sculptures around the walls, protected by glass cabinets, and the pillars are beautifully sculpted with apsaras and gods. Behind the sanctum is a depiction of the Hindu goddess Kali, flanked by a Jain sculpture of an unclothed woman – a chance to compare the elaborately garbed Hindu statue with its less prim Jain equivalent.

Behind Chandraprabhu is Parasnath , which you enter through a beautifully carved torana culminating in an image of the Jain tirthankar at its apex. There is a voluptuous carving of an apsara balancing sets of balls on her raised forearm. The interior has a beautiful, brightly painted ceiling.

A door to the south leads to small Shitalnath , dedicated to the 10th tirthankar . The image of Shitalnath enshrined here is composed of eight precious metals. A door in the north wall leads to the enchanting, dim chamber of Sambhavanth – in the front courtyard, Jain priests grind sandalwood in mortars for devotional use. Steps lead down to the Gyan Bhandar , a fascinating, tiny, underground library founded in 1500 that houses priceless ancient illustrated manuscripts, some dating from the 11th century. Other exhibits include astrological charts and the Jain version of the Shroud of Turin: the Shroud of Gindhasuri, named for a Jain hermit and holy man who died in Ajmer. When his body was placed on the funeral pyre, the shroud remained miraculously unsinged. In a small locked cabinet are images of Parasnath that are made of ivory and various precious stones, including emerald and crystal.

The remaining two temples are Shantinath and, below the library, Kunthunath , both built in 1536, with plenty of sensual carving. The enclosed gallery around Shantinath is flanked by hundreds of images of saints, some made of marble and some of Jaisalmer sandstone.